South Africa

17 years in SA – and ordered to leave

By GroundUp 26 July 2013

The father of a Dutch family that has been living in South Africa since 1996, and has South African children, has been ordered to leave the country by the end of next week. The order came from Home Affairs in Cape Town. The family has been struggling with the department for 17 years to live and work legally in South Africa. Although the order is made against the father, it is effectively forcing the family to leave the country. By Tariro Washinyira for GROUNDUP.

Thijs Van Hillegondsberg arrived in South Africa in 1996 from the Netherlands. He came with his wife, Patricia Poelmann, and his son Ludo, who was then three years old. The couple also adopted two South African children in 2001, Thembisa, who is now 18, and Johan, who is 16. They live in the Strand.

In April 2012, a Public Protector report titled Unconscionable Delay was released by Advocate Madonsela. It established that Home Affairs had failed the family and abused its power. Madonsela recommended that the Department set things right with the family by invoking ministerial powers and changing the family’s temporary residency status. She urged the department to issue the family permanent residency in South Africa by way of an exemption application. GroundUp reported this in June 2012.

Van Hillegondsberg, following instructions, then applied for exemption in November 2012. He is not satisfied with the outcome because Minister of Home Affairs, Naledi Pandor, rejected his exemption application. He alleges that, by law, he should have been awarded permanent residency in 2001 after he became the legal adoptive parent of the two South African children by order of a Cape Town High Court judge.

He believes it was essential that he be granted permanent residency in South Africa if he and his wife were to continue raising the two adopted children here in South Africa. They intended to become caring and contributing citizens of South Africa. He maintains that he and his wife have been residing in South Africa for 17 years now and have become fully integrated in society. They have made South Africa their home.

Photo: Thijs Van Hillegondsberg

Van Hillegondsberg explained to GroundUp how his 17-year struggle with Home Affairs to obtain legal documents has traumatised his family. The family has been fined and arrested for breaches of immigration laws at the urging of Home Affairs.

Van Hillegondsberg said, last week on Thursday afternoon, he received a phone call from a Cape Town Immigration official, who told him he was waiting for him at his house in Strand. The immigration official wanted to discuss his application. When Van Hillegondsberg asked why he had not received a phone call in advance and if this application review was based on instructions from the Minister of Home Affairs, the official, according to Van Hillegondsberg, did not give him a straight answer and instead suggested that he visit the Immigration Office in Cape Town on Friday morning. Van Hillegondsberg then told the immigration official that he preferred to meet at his home in Strand and advised him to wait for him.

“Once I had invited the immigration officials inside after checking their credentials, Mr Witbooi, one of the immigration officials … dropped the ‘bomb’ by saying that he had instructions ‘to order me to leave the country’”, Van Hillegondsberg recalls.

“One of the immigration officials mentioned my correspondence with the minister. I then asked him if he could show me any documents that indicate that they are indeed acting upon the minister’s instruction. He answered that the ‘internal processes’ should not concern him. ’If that is so’, I said, ‘then our conversation ends now’ and I asked the immigration officials to leave my house. They told me to come to their offices on Friday morning. About an hour later, one of the immigration officials who had visited phoned me to ask what time I would be coming in. I said I could not tell yet and then told him we would have to postpone the meeting to Monday.”

After the immigration officials left his home, Van Hillegondsberg contacted the Public Protector’s office in Pretoria and updated her on his case. Advocate Madonsela is trying on behalf of the family to get hold of the minister.

This week, the Department of Home Affairs delivered a signed document titled ‘order to illegal foreigner to depart from the republic’. Van Hillegondsberg refused to sign the delivered document which stated that he should leave the country by 4 August 2013. He said he suspects that the Cape Town immigration officials are not acting upon the minister’s instruction.

Leon Isaacson, Managing Director of Global Migration SA advised Van Hillegondsberg to obtain an interdict suspending the order to leave as well as any further action such as deportation. Isaacson wrote, “I suggest that the focus should be on the legal and Constitutional issues. You cannot be asked to leave or be deported as you have South African family here. This is a constitutional principle. If you have a meeting pending with the Minister and this notice is then served it shows that there is major miscommunication in the system.”

The Cape Town Home Affairs department did not respond to GroundUp’s multiple requests for comment. DM

Read more about community life in Khayelitsha and other Cape townships on GroundUp

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